September 21, 2004
TRMPAC indictments handed down

My original info was a bit off, but from my perspective that's just fine since the real story is even better.

A Travis County grand jury today indicted three consultants with Texans for a Republican Majority and at least seven corporate donors, according to lawyers for U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Indicted were John Colyandro, executive director of the political action committee; Warren Robold, a Washington, D.C., fund-raiser; and Jim Ellis a key aide to DeLay, according to Austin attorney Steve Brittain, who is a lawyer for DeLay.

Defense attorneys said Colyandro and Robold were charged with about a dozen felonies each; Ellis was indicted on one count. It was not yet known what the charges were.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle was not available for comment yet, and the indictments were still being processed.

Indicting Jim Ellis is a big deal. I'll get back to that in a minute. The Star Telegram names some of the corporate targets:

Among the companies indicted on grounds that corporate money was illegally funneled into the 2002 legislative elections were Sears and Roebuck, Westar Energy Inc., Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Bacardi USA.

Longtime fans will surely recognize a couple of those names. The other papers all just have AP wire reports right now, so look for updates later.

My joy at seeing Jim Ellis nailed can be traced back to this:

Memos from Tom DeLay's point man on redistricting suggest that for the House majority leader, it wasn't enough to pick up four or five seats if he couldn't knock off three particular senior Democrats.

"We must stress that a map that returns Frost, Edwards and Doggett is unacceptable and not worth all of the time invested into this project," Jim Ellis wrote, referring to Martin Frost of Arlington, Chet Edwards of Waco and Lloyd Doggett of Austin, in an Aug. 17 memo Democrats obtained when deposing him for the federal trial that opened last week.

It's my sincere hope that Mr. Ellis gets to see all three of those Congressmen returned to Washington while he joins the ranks of convicted felons. I'd call that justice. By the way, Ellis' indictment was for first-degree money laundering, the charge that Martha Stewart was convicted of.

The Stakeholder, Roman Candles, and Kos have more.

UPDATE: The Express-News has more:

The indictment named John Colyandro, executive director of DeLay's political action committee; Warren Robold, a Washington fund-raiser; and Jim Ellis a DeLay aide who directs the congressman's Washington PAC. Robold was indicted on 18 counts, nine of unlawfully soliciting and nine separate counts of accepting unlawful contributions from corporations. All are third-degree felonies. Colyandro faces 14 indictments, one charging money laundering, a first-degree felony, and the others of unlawfully accepting a political contribution, all third-degree felonies. Ellis was indicted on one count.

The indictments refer to Colyandro's acceptance of more than $400,000 in corporate contributions to Texans for a Republican Majority in violation of Texas law. Colyandro directed the Austin-based political action committee founded by DeLay, which was founded to help elect more Republicans to the Texas House.

Colyandro was also indicted on a money laundering charge in connection with his alleged role sending a $190,000 contribution to the Republican National State Elections Committee on behalf of TRMPAC. The alleged crime occurred, according to the indictment, when contributions totaling the same amount were subsequently made by a different arm of the committee to seven GOP candidates for the Texas House.

Ellis, who assisted the RNSEC, was also charged with money laundering in connection with the $190,000 in contributions.

"It was a multiple-count indictment, including felony charges," said an attorney who saw the document this morning, hours before it was to be released. It was not immediately clear if misdemeanor charges were included in the charges.


Westar Energy, Inc., for $25,000 given TRMPAC in May 2002; The Williams Companies, Inc., for $25,000 given in June 2002; Questarra Corporation, with two charges, for contributions of $25,000 in May 2002 and $25,000 in August 2002; Diversified Collection Services, Inc., for $50,000 in June 2002; Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., for $25,000 donated in September 2002; Bacardi USA, Inc., for $20,000 donated in July 2002; Sears, Roebuck and Co., for $25,000, in June 2002; The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care Inc., for $100,000 in October 2002.

More to come, I'm sure.

UPDATE: The Chron gives us a peek of the defense strategy:

Only a few of the corporations that contributed to Texans for a Republican Majority were indicted, but the indictments generally focus on violations of a Texas law that bans corporate donations from being used to promote individual political candidates.

Steve Brittain, who is representing DeLay, said the state law is clear on that but that it is "trumped" by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

He said Colyandro, Ellis and RoBold were all following the advice of legal counsel when they were running the Texans for a Republic Majority political action committee.

"All of these people felt very comfortable they were not violating the law," Brittain said. "We don't believe there's been any criminal conduct."

In short, expect a lengthy appeals process if these guys get convicted. It's always been my opinion that corporations do not have the same rights as human beings under the Constitution, but you never know what the courts will rule.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 21, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

The question before us, Mr. Chairman, is what did Mr. Delay know and when did he know it?

Posted by: cacafuego on September 21, 2004 4:17 PM

It sure would give the SCOTUS a chance to revisit the Nike free-speech decision whose certiorari it dismissed as improvidently granted in 2003.

Posted by: phil on September 21, 2004 7:27 PM

Steve Brittain, who is representing DeLay, said the state law is clear on that but that it is "trumped" by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and federal law

Wait, that's ridiculous, isn't it? Doesn't federal law already bar corporations from contributing to federal candidates directly? And hasn't federal campaign law gone through about as many court challenges as it's possible for a law to go through? Most of which were argued on First Amendment issues?

If that's really the defense . . . I think they've got problems.

Posted by: BriVT on September 21, 2004 7:57 PM

As an aside, Martha Stewart was not convicted of money laundering. She was convicted of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice.

Posted by: J. Michael Neal on September 22, 2004 11:12 AM